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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Pharaoh Neferkare (Pepi II) and his lover, General Sisene

Neferkare’s Affair with General Sisene – Pharaoh Neferkare (Pepi II) and Sisene (or Sasenet), a military commander, lived during the 6th Dynasty (2460-2200 B.C.) in the Old Kingdom. Known from three fragmentary copies, from the 19th–25th Dynasties (1295-656 B.C.), this text also probably originated earlier and had a long reading history. Although the beginning of the text is damaged, there is a reference to Sisene amusing the king “because there was no woman [or wife] there with him”; and the word “love [desire]” is mentioned in the line above.

A little later we read that Teti, a commoner, saw “the divine person of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkare, going out during the night to walk on his own… [Remaining hidden,] Teti said to himself, ‘if this is the case, then it is true what is said about him, that he goes forth during the night.’ … [Then Teti followed the king, who] arrived at the house of the general Sasenet. He threw up a stone and stamped his foot, at which a [ladder] was lowered down for him. He climbed up, and Teti son of Henet waited... When his divine person had done what he wanted to with [the general], he returned to the palace, and Teti son of Henet followed him...” Teti then notes that the king went to the general’s house at the fourth hour of the night [10 p.m.] and spent four hours there.”

 Montserrat notes that this tale stresses the “clandestine nature of the affair,” points to “rumors [circulating] of the king’s nocturnal cruising,” and “enhances the secrecy” of the affair by describing the king’s sneaking off to meet at the general’s house. Although the narrative implies a censure of homosexuality, Neferkari is “not criticized per se for having sex with another male but for being a bad ruler.” Some Egyptologists have suggested that this piece (including the affair) conveys an atmosphere of “royal corruption,” yet Greenberg notes that the description itself is fairly “neutral in tone and non-judgmental.” Still, contemporaries might have looked upon such activity on the part of a king, who was an incarnation of deity, as undignified and inappropriate.Yet, the pharaoh evidently had homosexual desires strong enough so that he found a secret lover and a nocturnal way to satisfy them happily, at least until he was discovered.

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